Ancient Greek Philosophy has many implications in numerous spheres of modern life, such as psychology, communication, leadership, economics and others. It is very important to learn ancient philosophy in order to be able to explore scale thinking because many contemporary ideas take their roots in ancient philosophical concepts.
The current paper is devoted to the research of two questions. The first one relates conversation between Socrates and Simmias regarding primary nature of body and soul. The problem of mutual influence of body and soul was raised and discussed in detail.
In the second part of the paper Aristotle and Epicurus philosophies were examined from the perspective of living well. Two philosophies were considered with regard to each other.
1. Part A.
Simmias (in Phaedo 84c-86d) responds to Socrates’ argument for the immortality of the soul by suggesting an analogy: the relationship between the soul and the body may be like the relationship between the attunement of the strings of a lyre and the lyre itself. Might not the destruction of the body destroy the soul in the same way that the destruction of a musical instrument destroys the instrument’s attunement? How does Socrates reply to Simmias? Is his reply persuasive (or compelling)?
Phaedo is probably one of the most essential dialogues in ancient Greek philosophy describing the concept on the soul. In this dialogue Socrates argued the existence of an immortal soul which, he claimed, is to be separated from the physical body. Greek philosophy was referred to the emergence and development of Gentile Christianity after being rejected by Hebrews. Later, Phaedo was considered a foundation for the Western concept of the soul (“Simmias’ Harmony”, 2006).
The idea of comparison the lyre with the strings and human soul with the body belongs to Simmias, one of the Socrates’ friends who had a conversation with Socrates shortly before his death. In the discussion concerning the immortality of the soul Simmias framed an argument comparing relation between human body and soul to a relation between lyre and its strings. For Simmias, the theory could be applied to the attunement of a lyre as well as to the soul and body relationship. Simmias stated that the body is mortal, visible, and composite as well as the lyre. Unlike to the lyre, the tune is invisible and ethereal. But if the lyre is destroyed, the tune cannot exist of itself. The soul cannot exist if the body was destroyed as well as the tune cannot exist separately from the lyre (Plato, 1966).
On framing a deductive argument, Simmias attempted to attain certainty, thus partially rejecting Socrates ideas, as well as Cebes and Phaedo. Simmias insisted on the personal approach of the interpretation of the world. He contended that the divine tune uttered by the lyre, which is a physical subject, is the result of an attunement. By analogy, the soul might be a result of the body’s physical features. For Simmias, it is logical to suppose that thoughts, hopes, desires, and fears being conscious activities are the result of the correct brain functioning. In the contemporary philosophy Simmias’ viewpoint is associated with materialistic approach because of this reason (Plato, 1966).
Simmias did not consider the relationship between the body and the soul as components that were making a personality. The “attunement” was described by Simmias as a kind of internal harmony between these two subjects. Thus challenging Socrates point of view, Simmias supported Pythagorean concept. The example of the lyre was chosen by Simmias in order to express his argument, namely: physical entity (i.e. lyre) has to exist before the harmony (i.e. tune) comes into existence. Thus, despite of the fact that the tune is not material it cannot survive if the lyre is destroyed. The same situation occurs to the soul and the body (Bigham, 2005).
Responding Simmias, Socrates raised first two arguments claiming for existence of the soul. In his third argument he attempted to prove primary existence of the soul, perhaps a kind of reincarnation. Forth argument was raised by Socrates for existence of the soul after physical death of the body. Then, Socrates raised three more arguments aimed at showing inconsistence of Simmias’ concept (“Simmias’ Harmony”, 2006).
At first sight Socrates’ respond cannot be considered comprehensive because it is not clear to what extent the assumption was true. Socrates accepted that any attunement was not opposed to the bodily desires. On the other hand, the assumption does not reflect the entire idea of attunement. Adjustment of the lyre was considered a manipulation of the physical parts of the instrument to restrict the trend towards dissonance. Apparently, dissonance is the natural condition of any instrument, thus there was no reason in tuning because such a state of the instrument would be natural. Therefore, tuning is seen as a limitation which is similar to the restrictions placed by the soul on the will of the body. It is obvious that the attunement of the instrument attempts to eliminate cacophony of an unturned instrument the same way that the soul acts to protect the body against its natural tendencies. In this context the soul can be represented as an attunement which is opposed to the bodily senses (“Simmias’ Harmony”, 2006).
Socrates encouraged his friends to raise arguments. Instead of answering questions addressed to him he used to raise more questions. This is supposed to be the feature of a true teacher. On the contrary to Simmias point of view, Socrates stated that his argument was inconsistent conceding that the soul rules a man. Socrates used the examples of not eating or not drinking when one is either hungry or thirsty in order to support the argument he raised. These two examples can be considered valid, but there are many other examples which prove the opposite. For example, the case when the body rules the soul is when someone would try to hold his or her breath until the suffocation. There can be a kind of attunement mentioned in this case. Another example is when someone attempts to hold a hot item for a long period of time. It is likely that the body will ignore the will of the body in this case (Plato, 1966).
The examples that were made showed that in most cases the soul exercise control over the body while there are few exceptions. In addition, the examples showed that Socrates’ argument was not entirely correct. Thus, his argument cannot be considered valid (Bigham, 2005).
Socrates refuted Simmias’ position in accordance with Recollection argument principle. For Socrates, the soul cannot be a harmony itself as it does not exert any influence on the instrument. Meanwhile, the soul could have a certain extent of harmony while not being a harmony. Also, Socrates stated that the soul can rule the body.
In general, Socrates reply represented a reasoned argument while several assumptions did not hold when examined closely. The attunement theory may not hold true while Socrates’ argument failed to disprove it thoroughly.
2. Part B.
For Aristotle, living well is the socially engaged exercise of practical wisdom (phronesis) to foster the flourishing (eudaimonia) in a well-ordered life. For Epicurus, in contrast, reason is much less central to the good life, which consists of fostering pleasure through enlightened moderation; the ideal state is one of imperturbability (ataraxia). Does Aristotle or Epicurus provide better guidance for living well?
People from different countries and different background started to ask themselves regarding what it means “to live well” long ago. The issue had been a subject of a debate in philosophic and religious circles. This paper is devoted to Aristotle and Epicurus philosophical visions with regard to “living well”. They were among first ancient Greek philosophers who raised this question representing quite opposite points of view on the point. The issue stays topical nowadays since everyone has to answer this question for ourselves.
Interestingly, philosophies of Aristotle and Epicurus are sometimes considered very similar by some researches. The ideas of Aristotle and Epicurus even duplicate each other while they have quite opposite viewpoints regarding happiness and human flourishing (eudaimonia). For instance, they agree on the point that human actions aimed at achieving complete happiness. However, there are certain essential differences in their vision (Wendling, n.d.).
Both of the philosophers were considered egoists. Also, Epicurus is usually called “egoistic hedonist”. A conception of living well was described in Nicomachean Ethics which was written by Aristotle about two thousand five hundred years ago. While Aristotle claimed that everyone should strive for his or her own self-interest, Epicurus believes that one should avoid pain and seek pleasure to be totally happy. Epicurus did not maintain clarity in the distinction between the terms of “happiness” and “pleasure” while Aristotle distinguished them. Aristotle advocated egoism and considered this feature an essential condition of flourishing. He emphasized the importance of self-interests in achieving prosperity. Aristotle believed that every human being is a “thing-in-itself” and one cannot be a means to other people end since one is an end in oneself (Wendling, n.d.).
Aristotle refuted either one’s sacrificing oneself to others or sacrificing others to someone. He rigidly rejected altruism as morality of living for other people within the society. He insisted on rationality and pragmatism. While opinions of both philosophers were similar, there were certain differences expressed in Epicurus following Aristippus ideas who was considered a true hedonist. Aristippus advocated immediate pleasure and pursuit of intense striving to obtain as many pleasures as possible. Epicurus distinguished several levels of pleasures, thus making his view more complicated on the contrary to Aristippus.
Epicurus advocated human nature when trying to explain people striving to avoid pain. He distinguished between mental (ataraxia) and physical (aponia) pleasures. He preferred ataraxia to aponia and considered mental pleasures more important than physical. Epicurus made the difference between necessary and unnecessary pleasures. Also, he did believe that not all pleasures were good as well as all kind of pain should be avoided. On the contrary to a common belief, he was not that primitive to be satisfied with being well-fed, have enough drink, and be merry. Surprisingly, Aristotle paid a significant attention to politics as well. He supposed that politics were important to one’s happiness. He emphasized voluntary involvement in political life in order to flourish. Epicurus had another opinion regarding political involvement and thought that politics could only increase anxiety thus making ataraxia unreachable. Politics was incompatible with physical and mental tranquil harmony. Therefore, he thought that one should stay out of politics because it caused much trouble and unhappiness. To his opinion, participation in politics was unnecessary and undesirable for someone who is happy and wanted to stay happy. Also, he advocated freedom as one of the most important concepts of libertarianism (Wendling, n.d.).
Aristotle paid more attention to the government regulation as a guarantee of protection human rights while Epicurus only recognized the necessity of a government as an instrument of avoiding chaos. Both of them acknowledged that the government intervention is only possible if the right of one person were interrupted by another person. Otherwise, the concept of freedom which is respected by both of them could be violated. While both Aristotle and Epicurus had the same goal, they utilized different means to obtain it. They agreed that one’s actions directed to human happiness and prosperity. Aristotle views happy and flourishing life through phronesis while Epicurus emphasizes ataraxia. Actually, they express the same idea by using different terms. It is not clear if Aristotle or Epicurus provided better guidance for living well since times are changing and concepts of living well are changing as well. It looks like Aristotle’s concept of happiness is associated with material welfare while Epicurus referred to an intellectual wealth and enlightened moderation to a greater extent. People experienced different tenors of life in different times. Human thoughts were shaped by different philosophies and underwent essential changes with time passed. Certainly, it is essential to some extent to keep up own interests while it seems that in contemporary environment thinking about interests of other people is the most selfish way to prosper. One should consider the possibility to be happy through making other people feel happy. To my opinion, this is modern philosophy of happiness. Thus, it is difficult to agree with neither Aristotle nor Epicurus taking into account their vision.
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Plato. (1966). Phaedo. (H. N. Fowler & W.R.M. Lamb). Cambridge: University Press.
Simmias’ Harmony. (2006). Socrates’ arguments for a distinct soul dissected.
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Wendling, J.P.(n.d.). Aristotle and Epicurus. Retrieved from